Codebreakers who are looking for the ultimate challenge might like to tackle an, as yet, uncracked code from the 19th century. Whoever unravels the so-called Beale ciphers will earn a reward of over £10 million in gold, silver and jewels.
Recently crews from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) visited Johnson’s Orchards and Peaks Of Otter Winery in order to re-create the story of the Beale Treasure for their show called “Mysteries”. A great time was had by everyone involved in the filming and there was much media coverage from local television news to the local newspaper.
-The Johnsons are used to visitors coming and going on their 250-acre farm. They frequently give tours of their apple orchards and, during the school year, show children what farm life is like. Danny Johnson said he shows them the cows because he wants them to know where milk comes from, just as he shows them the apple orchards because he wants them to know where apples come from. Danny and his wife, Nancy, have pot-bellied pigs, goats, horses, turkeys, ducks, ponies, a Norwegian elkhound named Bo-Bo, and other critters which are interesting to most visitors. But the guests the Johnsons had last week weren’t interested in any of that.
They were interested in gold.
“I’m sorry, Jeff, but can you do that again, please?” Luke Campbell wiped his forehead and squinted at the makeshift set near a pond on the Johnson’s land.
Jeff Krantz nodded at Campbell’s request to reshoot and went back to his spot hiding behind a large rock. The other six actors sat down again by a campfire on the set, picking up their props of banjos, bandannas and tin cups. A wagon with two horses waited next to the campfire. Two other horses were tied to a tree near the men. “Quiet on the set! Quiet!” Sharon Tracey yelled. She is not very tall and has blonde wavy hair, but as production manager, she has a voice that can be loud when she wants it to be. Bystanders stopped their conversations. Someone grabbed Bo-Bo by his orange collar so he wouldn’t run into the scene. He stifled a bark when Nancy Johnson gave him a threatening look.
“Action!” Campbell said.
Krantz sprang from his hiding place, wearing the 10-gallon hat, long-sleeved button-down shirt, long pants and cowboy boots his character “Jeb,” probably would’ve worn in the 1820s. Krantz’s face lit up, a mix between a smile and horror.
“Gold! I swear to God I ain’t never seen as much ever! Gold! Gold!”
The other actors, Jebs fellow scoundrels and treasure hunters, scurried up the large rock with Krantz, leaving a cloud of dust and props in their wake.
“And cut! Thank you,” Campbell said, fanning with his shirt. It was almost 94 degrees.
Campbell is the free-lance director of the British Broadcasting Company’s television series “Mysteries,” similar to the American show “Unsolved Mysteries.”
Campbell and his crew were looking for story ideas recently and learned of Bedford County’s Beale treasure mystery through the Internet. They worked on background information and script writing for one week in London and flew to Virginia last week to film their version of the legend.
Sometime between 1819 and 1821, Thomas Jefferson Beale is said to have buried a vat of gold, silver and jewels somewhere near the present-day Bedford County town of Montvale. The loot was conservatively estimated in 1993 to be worth $20 million.
Beale left behind three coded messages: The first told the exact location of the treasure; the second told the contents; the third told who owned the treasure. It is said hat only the second code has been broken.
People worldwide have been afflicted with the Beale addiction, devoting their lives to the dream of buried treasure.
In 1991, six people from Pennsylvania were arrested for digging in a graveyard in hopes of finding the treasure, which they claimed would be donated to their church.
Mel Fisher, famous for his discovery of the treasure ship Nuestra Senora de Atocha in 1985, hunted for the Beale treasure for three months in 1989. Fisher was unsuccessful and said he would return with a high-powered metal detector, the same kind his crew used to find sunken ships. But he died last year of cancer at age 76.
The BBC filmed for two days. They depicted the modern events tied to the Beale story, including Fisher’s quest, on Thursday, and shot the historical footage of Beale and his swarthy crew Friday. Both days, the crew and actors had to be on the set at 7 a.m., and the day didn’t end until 7 p.m. or later.
The crew flew to Key West Saturday to interview two of Fisher’s partners. They said they would start editing the footage in London today.
NBC’s “Unsolved Mysteries” did the Beale story about 10 years ago — also at Johnson’s Orchards.
Danny and Nancy Johnson are used to people knocking on their door, wanting to dig on the property for treasure. Danny Johnson usually lets them, if they fill out the proper paperwork and promise to fill the holes they dig. Some do. Most don’t.
Last Monday, the BBC crew met with people from Bedford’s community theater, Little Town Players, and Sue Gilbert, Bedford’s economic development coordinator. Auditions for the part of Thomas Beale, his friend Jeb, and other characters were held that night. About half the actors hired for Friday’s shoot were members of the Little Town Players.
The BBC crew relied heavily on the Bedford community. Horses, furs, wagons, costumes and other items were borrowed; stones were spray-painted to look like gold; silver-studded bridles were found for the horses — all to provide the authentic touch the British crew wanted for the show.
“Everybody has helped so much,” production manager Tracey said. She cried early Friday because of the “mad week” it had been. But she perked up at the shoot because everything seemed “to all just come together.” Krantz and Tim Flagg, a fellow Bedford actor who played Thomas Beale, ambled over to a mud-splattered pickup truck after the end of their scene. They grabbed some cans of soda from a cooler and joined Karen Hopkins, a 24-year member of the Little Town Players. Hopkins played Mrs. Morris, the wife of the innkeeper to whom Beale is said to have given the treasure codes. The crew, on a lunch break, sat down in the shade near the field where they were shooting.
Most of the cast and crew said they didn’t believe in the Beale treasure, or, if they did, many said the loot probably had been found by now. The Johnsons said they found their own treasure a while back when they discovered a new variety of yellow apples growing in their orchard. Danny Johnson said it’s a “real sweet and juicy apple” and should make its debut this fall. In honor of the Beale treasure, the Johnsons named the apple the “Gold Nugget.” Whether the Beale treasure is real or a hoax, it has mesmerized the adventurous and made dozens of treasure hunters drool at the prospect of finding the loot.
Michael Johnston was at the orchard all day Friday, acting and helping with the shooting. Wearing a beige cowboy hat, red bandanna, smudged long-john shirt, jeans and boots, Johnston could have walked out of Beale’s era. Although he looked like a treasure hunter, he doesn’t share the gold fever.
“A lot of people want something for nothing,” Johnston said and talked about a man from Ohio he had met years ago. The man spent three years and almost all of his money hunting for the Beale treasure and wound up broke.
“He looked haggard,” Johnston said. “I wanted to say, ‘What’s pushing you? What would be worth this?’